Supporting graduate student health and well-being

“You're in pretty good shape for the shape you are in.” --Dr. Seuss

Our physical health and our mental health are closely intertwined so the health of one affects the health of the other. I use exercise to improve my mental health but it’s not always easy. Sometimes I hate the thought of going to the gym and it’s a struggle to get there because it’s hard work and because it feels like I’m wasting time I should be spending on my work. But when I’ve finished, I always feel better physically and mentally. 

But what happens when our normal coping strategies fail? When you can’t push past the knot of anxiety in your stomach that’s been there for weeks or months, when you can barely muster the energy to turn on Zoom or when you feel completely overwhelmed by your own or other’s expectations? Sometimes doing all of the right things – and even doing them consistently – just isn’t enough. These feelings could be signals that your mental health and well-being need attention. And you’re not alone. 

 In 2019, Nature published its fifth survey of PhD students, which pointed to a burgeoning mental health crisis among graduate students. Getting a graduate degree has always been challenging and it’s only gotten more so since the beginning of the global pandemic.  In fact, a survey conducted in May-July 2020 by the Student Experience in the Research University Consortium reported that the prevalence of major depressive disorder among graduate and professional students is two times higher in 2020 than in 2019 and 1.5 times higher for generalized anxiety disorder than in 2019. 

The good news is that for both mental and physical health, there are solutions that individuals and institutions can take to help mitigate the negative impacts. 

So, what do we do about it?  

At the institution level, the Graduate College is a signatory on the Supporting Mental Health and Well-being for Graduate Students: A Statement of Principles and Commitments of Graduate Deans, the result of a new report by the Council of Graduate Schools and the Jed Foundation. Over the coming months, we’ll be exploring how to address the recommendations with stakeholders throughout ASU.  These are our values and principles for student health and well-being:

Values: We believe in...

  1. Student-centered education. Graduate programs succeed when they provide opportunities for students to explore pathways and learning experiences that align with their interests and goals.

  2. Educational environments that support the whole student. Students are most likely to succeed when graduate programs recognize that physical, social, and emotional experiences—in addition to academics—are important aspects of any student’s life.

  3. Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. are at the core of the Graduate College's values with the aim to ensure that students from all backgrounds flourish.

  4. Transparency. Graduate programs best support students when they offer clear program guidelines, policies and expectations that help students understand what is required for success.

Principles: We also believe that we, as graduate deans, play a key role in supporting graduate student mental health and well-being by leading graduate education at our respective institutions with the following principles:

  1. Well-being is a foundation of student success. Graduate schools and programs that nurture a positive and inclusive learning environment allow graduate students to optimize personal, academic and professional growth.

  2. Thriving, not surviving, is the goal. Some stresses and challenges are part of the learning process. Graduate schools and programs that balance these inherent stress points with safety, respect, and effective mentoring increase the likelihood that students will thrive.

  3. The challenges experienced by graduate students vary widely and differ in important ways from the experiences of undergraduates. Universities must understand and act on the specific nature of the challenges graduate students face.

  4. Faculty, staff, and administrators who work with graduate students may also themselves experience significant stress. The ability of graduate schools and programs to serve their students effectively also depends on the mental health and well-being of all of their community members.

 “We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own 'to do' list.” --Michelle  Obama

Live Well @ASU 

ASU provides health and well-being services and resources for all graduate students on the four metropolitan campuses (Tempe, Downtown, Polytechnic and West)  and for graduate students enrolled in ASU Online. 

ASU on-campus students

ASU provides free health and well-being services and resources, including individual medical care, counseling and individual or group fitness and wellness activities in a variety of modalities. Our more than 20 physicians and nurse practitioners are board-certified in emergency medicine, family medicine, internal medicine, neurology, orthopedics, rheumatology and sports medicine. In addition, ASU Counseling Services offers confidential, personal counseling, and crisis services for students experiencing emotional concerns, problems in adjusting, and other factors that affect their ability to achieve their academic and personal goals.  Counseling Services also gives you access to a counselor any time of day, from anywhere in the world through Open Call and Open Chat offers simple access to connect with a mental health clinician about anything. 

Check out the Live Well @ ASU website for access to all services available to students attending classes on ASU campuses. 

You can also use CRISIS TEXTLINE: Text HOME To 741741

ASU Online students

Online students have access to free, 24/7 counseling and crisis intervention in person or by phone through 360 Life Services. You can also chat at your convenience with topic specialists in legal, personal finance, childcare, education and more.

For immediate, live services, call 833-223-9883 or visit the 360 Life Services website to make an appointment.

We hope you’ll take advantage of the health and well-being resources available to you at ASU as you pursue your graduate degree. It’s important to know that you’re not alone and that we are all better together. And remember:


“Happiness is good health and a bad memory.” --Ingrid Bergman

For further reading

Read the Supporting Mental Health and Well-being for Graduate Students: A Statement of Principles and Commitments of Graduate Deans executive summary

Read the full report Supporting Graduate Student Mental Health and Well-being